One afternoon in May 2006, I was sitting at my desk when all my assistant managers came into the office. I looked around wondering if I had unknowingly called a meeting. I knew that wasn’t it by the looks on their faces. “What’s wrong?” I said.
Nobody was quick to respond; they just looked at me. “I think you need to go home,” said Big T, a man of few words. “I’ve already called your son. He expects you to be on the road in the next few minutes. Call us in about half an hour when you get there. If you’re not there in 30 minutes, we’re calling the state police to make sure you’re all right.”
I was a little taken aback, but I followed their instructions. I made it home, but shortly afterwards, I was admitted to the hospital with fatigue and nausea. My coworkers saw it coming, but I didn’t have a clue.
Hearing the News
The ER doctor said that the cardiologist was on his way. I’d heard that before—when my mother had been admitted there. After a few tests and whispers with the nurses, he returned to ask how long I’d been in pain. I remembered when it started, six weeks prior. Next came the shock of my life. “Young lady,” he said, “you had a heart attack six weeks ago.”
I turned to him in shock and asked, “How is that possible?” I remember these words specifically: “Women don’t exhibit like men.” I was floored that I had missed all the signs—and there were many, as I would learn later. That severe back pain that nagged me and couldn’t be licked by over-the-counter pain medications was symptomatic. So was the stress of the end of another fiscal year at work.
Three increasingly severe episodes, the installation of a defibrillator, 15 more ambulance rides to three different hospitals, and a lot of cardiologists later, I was finally referred to Montefiore Hospital Advanced Cardiac Care Program. I was immediately given a nine-day extensive evaluation covering all the medical disciplines and then placed in the Cardiac Transplant Program.
I was listed as stage 2, placing me on the waiting list but not in emergency status. I was eventually upgraded to stage 1 and the staff was puzzled as to why I was so happy when they told me that I needed a new heart. The doctor said that it was usually the hardest thing for some people to hear. But it was music to my ears—I felt as though if I received a transplant, I had a chance at life.
Unfortunately, because of my weight (with a weight loss of 50 pounds, I was at 93 pounds) and blood issues, my perfect match wasn’t coming as fast as those who usually wait in the hospital. I was too sick to go home and wait, so I went on to make medical history at Montefiore as the longest inpatient waiting for a heart: 78 days.
My Heart Transplant Journey
The day finally came when I had a match. I didn’t believe it at first, because I’d heard it before. Three times before, I was told that there was a possible match, and every time it didn’t work out. I had been in the hospital for almost three months and I didn’t want to feel let down again.
This time, they brought in a device to measure my chest cavity. They told me that my possible donor was a male who weighed over 180 pounds and they had to measure my chest to see if it would accommodate the organ. I then knew that this time, it was for real.
I was excited but very reflective, knowing that someone was losing a loved one. I was humbled to know that some brave soul and his family that didn’t even know me made a beautiful and bold decision to save my life.
My luck continued when by chance I wrote Oprah to tell her the story of my transplant journey and I was asked to come onto that show to talk about my transplant. On the show, I was surprised with an introduction to my donor family, the Bovills. My donor was 23-year-old Mike Bovill, a coastguard serviceman on active duty returning to base camp on his motorcycle when was cut off by another vehicle.
As you can imagine, the moment I met that family was one of the most emotional days of my new life. Mike’s dad told me that they knew he would have wanted to save others’ lives with his own and their feelings were confirmed when they saw “donor” on his driver’s license.
Michael Bovill was a true American hero who served his country proudly and saved five lives that day. I received his heart, a teenage male received one kidney, a seven-year-old girl received the other, a lawyer received his lungs, and an older man received his liver. Each one of us was from a different ethnic group. Organ donation crosses all ethnic and racial boundaries and gives everyone a second chance at life.
Organ Donation Facts
- The process of registering is quick and easy.
- There are more than 113,000 people in the United States now waiting for a life-saving organ transplant.
- The largest need is for kidneys, but livers and hearts also can mean the difference between life and death for someone.
- Sixty percent of those waiting for organ donations are African American, Hispanic, and Asian. This is due to the prevalence of hypertension and diabetes in these populations.
- The need for organ donation is critical, with an estimated 18 people dying every day while they wait for a transplant.
- The math is simple: the more organ donors there are, the more lives will be saved.
To learn more about organ donation, or to enroll to be a donor, please visit Donate Life America’s website at: http://donatelife.net/register-now/